I grew up farming.
When I was a kid, I drove my parents crazy with my little “farmsteads.” I would gather rusty bits from the garage floor, out of the top crust of the dirt floor of the machine shed, or pilfered from the dregs of my dad’s scrap metal pile, which stretched along the wall in both directions outside the big doorway of the machine shed, where he would bring the tractors to change oil in the shade or the combine for blowing out the radiator, and I would “build” homesteads and tiny cities.
All to both of their chagrin…I’m sure mom turned an ankle or two as a result of my digging in the old garage where she parked her car to protect it from frost in the wintertime. There was all sorts of crazy treasure buried in that dirt floor. My most memorable find looked like a connonball! And I recall Dad tripping over one of my creations near the back door one day as he hurried to the house to use the telephone, and I got in trouble for leaving a mess in the yard.
In my early years, I was witness to art under the guise of ingenuity and ambition in many forms.
Dad made just about anything he wanted to from metal or wood (including a gorgeous grandfather clock and several beautiful rocking horses), he grew beautiful crops, he’s a gifted hunter and fisherman, and he’s great with animals. The one thing I always remember and apply that he says is “You get out what you put in.” Likewise, Mom was always creating, but her media were a little different: the giant garden and its produce, her landscaping and flowers, the huge intricate counted cross-stitch scenes on which she was always working, and she was always stripping and refinishing furniture or building a piece for our house.
As I grew up, I was lucky to experience the range of activities and skills that our daily life entailed.
I spent hours in the shed with Dad, and I watched carefully when he worked with metal, but I never asked to try myself. I did little things like pump engine oil from a barrel into a quart jar and deliver it to him so he could pour it into the tractor, or back the tractor up to the equipment so he could hook it up from the ground, and I pulled him out of the mud many times in the field. Mom would’ve killed him if she knew he was letting me pull…that was a big no-no in her book. As long as I was quiet and didn’t ask a lot of questions, he let me play and just be around him, which was a treat for us girls because as all farmers do, and even more so back in the day before weed prevention technology, he spent an inordinate amount of time on a tractor, working ground, planting and cultivating. We called working with Dad “family activities.” Working baby pigs, sorting cattle, laying out pipe for the traveling irrigation gun, and harvest time.
When Dad was in the field, we had plenty of chore responsibilities taking care of our sow herd and feeding fat steers, planting and caring for the garden, and preserving our food. During that time, Mom was our teacher. We could use a tractor and carry-all to move a sow with her litter of piglets without the assistance of Dad. We could blade out the hog barns with the little tractor without our parents around. We learned to deal with necessary death and not getting too emotionally close to our livestock. My sister and I grew up knowing independence, problem-solving, dealing with frustrations, pushing our body to the limit with the work, and the satisfaction of a job well done. When we were not working, we were usually exploring in the woods or on the road, riding our bikes. I would climb to the top of the oat crib and lie in the cool grain, or sit in the cool moss that grew on the ground on the north side of the grain bins, reading until Mom honked the car horn for me to come in.
We played sports, having been encouraged and coached by Mom. I branched away from FFA after my sophomore year of high school to include the arts and extra science in my extracurriculars. I was on yearbook staff, took creative writing in the summer, was Teacher’s Aide for the Human Anatomy and Physiology lab.
After high school, we both went on to get bachelors’ degrees in Agriculture, mine in Communications and my sister’s in Business. I played college volleyball, but only for a semester. I had qualified for an academic scholarship that took up the slack, so I wasn’t out any money, and I had so much more freedom. I took photography courses, learning technique and how to develop photos in a dark room. I always had a job on top of my course load. I loved to write, and while completing my required semester on staff at Cowboy Journal (Oklahoma State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources semi-annual magazine publication), I also served an internship with The Daily O’Collegian, OSU’s award-winning newspaper, where I covered the police beat and was always on call for important stories. There’s nothing like landing a big story at the top of the front page; I certainly felt the allure of doing that for a living.
After college, instead of landing a writing gig, I sought hands-on knowledge in agriculture and horticulture, which sent me on a path to my family farm, then an inside sales position with a large horticultural wholesale company an hour from the farm in SW MO; then to Memphis TN as a greenhouse supervisor and later my own landscaping business; then back to the farm in SW MO to take over farm operations at my parents’ invitation.
I served a year in apprenticeship to my dad (during which I also worked ground for Linderhof Farms and raised over 250 heifers for FOCAL Dairy, a large local New Zealander-owned dairy) before he turned everything over (and I mean everything…I had to sign a lot of papers), leaving all the decision-making to mom and I, and most of the work to me. I had my oldest daughter Creek a year later, and when she was about 6 months old, I began dreaming (during all my tractor time) about turning rusty farm junk into art. I started out making flowers and animals. I hadn’t welded since I was in high school (freshman year ag shop). I still have the little gate I made for the sow carryall back in 1994. Dad was not helpful to or supportive of my art. He thought it was a waste of time and refused to teach me to weld again. I fumbled around with the stick welder until I got the hang of it again and made my first flowers, animal sculptures and horse shoe art. My second year in charge of farm operations, I used Junkyard Farmgirl income for the entire down payment on my “new” planter, a used Kinze 3500 8-row with interplant rows. It was a sweet implement, speeding up planting time and having much better depth consistency. Dad and I never fought about the junk art after that, and ultimately he became supportive, even going so far as to tear out cool junk art pics from magazines and saving them for me. I still have them stashed somewhere.
As I began transforming metal trash into treasure and selling my art, I also began taking in other salvaged materials like windows, barn wood, tin and anything that I thought I could recycle. I rented booth space at junk shows in the region and did really well peddling my salvaged materials and art that way. I purchased a plasma cutter to make Jack o’lanterns from salvaged metal containers, and the plasma cutter became an integral part of the business. I used it to make luminaries, Jacks, and to cut art from rusty barn tin.
I met my husband Casey when Creek was 3, on New Year’s Eve 2013. His friends called him Farmer. I had just bought my own place a mile from the farm a few months previous, and our first date was spent demolishing the double bathroom in the house. Casey is really supportive of my art, and I think that really drew us together: he liked hearing my crazy ideas and had fun watching me make something from nothing. He also loves to cut and split wood, which fit right in, because at that time I spent most of my spare time cutting a splitting to keep my house warm, and having him take that task over allowed me to spend more time with my art.
There was heightened interest from women wanting to learn to use power tools and to complete DIY projects, so when Creek was 6, in January 2016, I hosted my first workshop in the garage at my house. I had classes every week, sometimes cramming up to 30 ladies around the work tables in my garage. That first year of teaching workshops, I became pregnant with my younger daughter Cale, Casey and I married in May, and Cale arrived the following September. I was still grain farming full-time, Creek was attending public school, and I kept Cale with me, wearing her on my front most of the time. I wore her at the computer while doing vinyl layout, around the workshop doing everything from sanding to plasma cutting, during classes, feeding cattle in the snow on the farm and while doing housework. I taught my first welding and plasma cutting workshops that spring and summer, and continue to do so during the warm months of the year.
The following summer, in 2017, Mom and I decided to fold up our farming operation. As we finished our last corn and soybean harvest, I moved my studio and classroom into a building in my hometown of Jasper in anticipation of going full-time with my art. We had our equipment auction that December and kept our farmland and our cattle. I had a great holiday season in my new studio in town, but we were looking for a long-term space, so the following spring I moved from there to nearby, larger Lamar, and I began homeschooling Creek, which gave us so much freedom to travel with the business. We have been open there since July 2018.
The last ‘strictly retail’ show we did was in Tulsa in January 2020. In March 2020, Casey and I went to Kansas City to check out the West Bottoms, a once-defunct industrial area that is now home to spookhouses and antique malls. I had heard a lot about it, but I wasn’t sure if it was a good fit for us. Casey isn’t usually all up in my business, but we like to be supportive and helpful to one another whenever possible, so when I asked him if he wanted to go with me to check it out, he was on board. The first building we walked into ended up being the one in which I chose to rent space.
Then COVID-19 prevented me from moving into my space. We spent the rest of March and all of April poised to move, but with the shutdowns, I didn’t get to start work on my space until May, and restrictions were eventually loosened enough that the First Friday event was allowed to happen in June. I still maintain a space up there in the West Bottoms on the 4th floor at Martin’s Memories.
As I said, I haven’t done a strictly retail event since January of 2020, but I was invited to do my plasma cutting art Live at an event in southeast Iowa in October 2020, so I loaded my cutter, a bunch of vintage metal fuel cans and other containers, and a stack of barn tin in my box trailer and set up on the back porch at my friend’s little gift shop in Bonaparte, Iowa, as part of the Scenic Drive Festival, a regional event that spotlights 8 villages in rural Van Buren County.
That event changed the trajectory of my business. I made stellar customer connections at that event. Watching me make art was like water in the desert to people who had been cooped up for months during the pandemic lockdown. Folks lined up to watch me cut Jack o’lanterns, and I would shut down the generator to talk, check out customers, hand out business cards, and then start over again. It was difficult to keep up; everything I was making was selling. They watched, then they purchased what they had watched me create. I invited each person to go junkin’ and bring me back something to cut for them. They began arriving with watering cans, fuel cans, buckets…anything I could do a custom design on for them.
After that event, I decided I wanted more of that. I contacted Silver Dollar City by sending a general inquiry email about their Harvest Festival. A few weeks later, I received a reply that included an application for the 2021 Festival. The app requested photos of me performing my craft, so i made winter plans to revamp an area of my junk shed to be more conducive to photos and filming so that I could submit some profesh photos for my application and also so I could make better videos for my YouTube channel.
At the turn of the year 2021, the acreage we had been renting for pasture sold. I sold 35 head of cattle and moved 15 to a small piece of pasture on my grandpa’s farm. In February, we had a crazy weather event where we plunged into a deep freeze for over two weeks, which demanded all of our time to care for our livestock and keep the house warm.
On Valentine’s Day, Casey had a brain bleed, and I spent 17 days with him at KU Med after brain surgery. They sent him to a rehab facility in Springfield MO where he spent a week. They said he would need 3 months to recover before returning to work. We’re fortunate that I could stay home with him, and by the end of May, he was back at work full-time and I was able to re-open my studio.
I was trying to “just let everyone be,” advice delivered to me by one of my oldest friends. Casey’s bleed was a wake-up call on many levels, and I was reeling at the prospect of restarting my business machine that had ground to a halt with the aneurysm. Just letting everyone be sounded good to me. It removed a lot of responsibility, and I followed her advice further and did more to “let myself off the hook” rather than say yes and stay buried in work.
I shelved the Silver Dollar City Application and my ambitions to develop the Live Art aspect of my business.
That was cemented in late June with my mom’s second diagnosis of breast cancer. I was with her through her bilateral mastectomy in early July and she was scheduled to start chemo in September. She was to do 4 months of treatments, one every two weeks. So I planned to be available to her, to take her to her appointments and her chemo treatments.
In June, I had been doing Live feeds on social media of working on plasma cutting in my metal shop and listing my luminary products on my website. In August, I was doing regular Lives and was covered up in special orders for Jacks and luminaries. During our largest local event, our Lamar Fair, in late August, most of the businesses on the square are closed, but I remained open and brought my generator and plasma cutter to town to do Live Art behind the studio. I did live feed on social media while cutting kettles, teapots, fuel cans and old buckets. It was our biggest weekend of the year, and in the middle of it, I got an email from an event coordinator at Silver Dollar City. Someone who works there is a follower of my Facebook page, and she called the event staff and told them to tune into my live videos. They invited me to participate in the 2021 Harvest Festival, and asked if I could set up there in 3 weeks time.
Mom and Casey were both on board. It was thrilling for all of us! My aunt helped to take up the slack for me on delivering Mom to her treatments. We planned how to get Cale to and from preschool every day during the times Creek and I were supposed to be at Silver Dollar City. I already had other Live Art events on the schedule, including another trip to Iowa for the 2021 Scenic Drive Festival, but the two weekends that SDC invited me down for, my schedule was open, and after adding SDC to the calendar, we only had two weekends free between September 1 and Thanksgiving.
It was a crazy, exhausting, wonderful fall.
The Harvest Festival was amazing. Those customer connections that I had felt in Iowa and was seeking more of is exactly what I got. We were so busy the entire time doing custom work for people. I was constantly cutting with my plasma cutter. It was hard to keep up. I would look up from cutting and find I had 30 people watching me. I would duck behind our curtain to shovel down a meal, guzzle a water, then get right back out there to work. The feedback from the event coordination staff warmed my heart: “I’ve never heard so much chatting about how amazing you were, from guests and employees to other crafters…you were definitely a crowd pleaser.”
The 2021 holiday season passed in a blur. Mom finished her treatment in November. It’s January and I’m already creating products for quarter 4 and planning my setup at the 2022 Harvest Festival.
I’ve always been a do it all, all the time, person. In 2022, my priority is minimizing my business. I’ll be honing it down to mainly metal art, making furniture from barn wood, and reviving decrepit old furniture with art painting. There’s no way I can stop doing all the art I’ve fallen in love with other the last 10 years and all the things I grew up doing, so I’ll continue to sew, create jewelry, etc. But I won’t be making that a part of my business in the way that I envisioned I would a couple of years ago. I’ll continue to share my art from those genres and list it on the website, but I won’t be putting effort into creating a lot of online content surrounding those subjects. My social media content will focus primarily on the plasma cutting, the welding and turning the raw salvaged materials into art and functional decor.
I continue to book traveling events, but now I will only book an event if I’m allowed to do Live Art. I’ll be at the Junk Ranch, west of Fayetteville, AR, the first weekend in June. I’ve sent my letter of interest to Silver Dollar City, and I am signing on to be there for 6 weeks in fall 2022.
Interest in plasma cutting workshops is at an all-time high. I taught more women this year to use their own machine than I ever imagined possible… my youtube channel inspires creators (women AND men) to make salvaged materials art with a plasma cutter. I make them believe they can do it too! I would love to be able to teach metal art year-round; however, I don’t have an all-weather shop YET, so I’m looking forward to my plasma cutting workshops scheduled for spring and summer.
I’m happiest in three places:
1. In my workshop, creating my art. I want to continue to create art from salvaged materials and market it to the public.
2. Creating art live. There’s nothing like the delight on a customer’s face when I make something exactly how they want it, on the spot.
3. In my junk shed with a few ladies, enjoying the child-like excitement you feel when you make something amazing all by yourself. Teaching women to plasma cut and weld is very fulfilling.
My mission is to empower myself and other women through salvaged materials art, and to delight others in my creations. I inspire women to think outside the box, to use their hands, to learn to do things that haven’t always been acceptable for girls and women, to see the beauty in the broken, and to access the wild creative side of themselves.
I’m happy to have you along for this beautiful messy ride!
Angie, Junkyard Farmgirl